Fashion 88 : Fashionable Raisa Gorbachev Is Changing Moscow’s Color

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Times Staff Writer

Look at a group of women walking around Moscow these days and, besides their drawstring bags and sensible shoes, chances are good that they will be wearing the Soviet Union’s newest fashion.

It’s “Raisa Red,” the shade of the Soviet first lady’s hair color.

Appearing softer and lighter in person than it does on television and in newsmagazine photos, Mrs. Gorbachev’s coppery gold coif is the height of fashion here. That’s why Moscow perfumeria shops, which sell women’s beauty products, say they are running out of a henna rinse manufactured in Iran and sold here as Chna.

Unfortunately, Chna does not always seem to translate to Mrs. Gorbachev’s tint, which many average Soviet citizens believe is a Western dye. All too often, a Muscovite’s attempt to copy it produces a shade that more resembles fuchsia.


The situation underscores the problems of Soviet women who try to follow Western standards of beauty and style. While Mrs. Gorbachev remains an elegant if unusual role model, the average woman doesn’t have the same access to worldwide consumer goods as she does.

The result is that many Soviet women still live up to the dumpy, dowdy image that has plagued them since Nina Khrushchev visited the United States with her husband, Nikita, in 1959.

But there are signs, albeit small ones, that Soviet fashions--once permitted only to be functional and practical, and seemingly always polyester--are changing. On Moscow’s Gorky Street near the Byelorussky train station, the ABV cooperative clothes store opened this year selling Soviet-made sportswear with a trendy, almost whimsical style. What else can you say about cotton pants and blouses featuring red stars, pictures of Lenin and abstract designs in a rainbow of colors?

Now, the West German fashion magazine Burda Moden is producing a Russian edition, making it the first real Western fashion magazine to appear in the Soviet Union. Even tickets for the promotional announcement sold for an astronomical 50 rubles on the black market--one-fourth of the average worker’s monthly salary. By next year, more than 1 million copies of Burda should be available here.

Of course, Mrs. Gorbachev herself doesn’t need Burda--much less Vogue--to tell her how to dress for success on the international diplomacy circuit. The Soviet First Lady, who has become friends with Pierre Cardin and attended a fashion show by Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, seemed this summit to have an innate feeling for wearing the right thing during public appearances.

One of her best outfits was the one she chose for the Spaso House dinner in which the Reagans hosted the Gorbachevs. While First Lady Nancy Reagan looked almost somber in a gray Galanos dress, Mrs. Gorbachev looked festive but sophisticated in a shimmery gold tunic with a nipped-in waist and ruffled collar over a slim black satin skirt.


By all accounts, Mrs. Gorbachev is bringing her fashion savvy to her country. Not only was she instrumental in arranging for Cardin to design a new line of clothing to be made in the Soviet Union and sold in Moscow boutiques, but she also recently presided over a round-table discussion with representatives of the Soviet clothing industry.

Staff of Designers

For some time now, Mrs. Gorbachev’s stylish outfits have been designed by Viyacheslav Zaitsev, the Dior of Moscow, but rumors are rife these days that he has fallen out of favor with her. According to these reports, she has assembled a secret special-design staff to make sure she looks pulled together Western style.

But Zaitsev, who has his own House of Fashion here and also shows his designs in Paris and most recently New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, is still very much a favorite of the average Soviet woman, perhaps because his three weekly fashion seminars cost them only 3 rubles to attend.

Zaitsev, who has often complained that the Soviet Union is “standing in the corner” while the West passes it by in beauty and style, is hopeful about the future. The reason is Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s emphasis on high-quality consumer goods as a driving force of economic reform.

Through his policy of perestroika, or restructuring, a new policy permits Soviet trade groups to bargain directly with the West. This act alone has the potential to give the lagging Soviet fashion industry a chance to catch up with the West through joint ventures.

One area where these joint ventures have been especially popular is with Soviet women’s cosmetics. In perfumeria shops these days, French-Soviet beauty products are available under the label Parizh-Moskva. And a Soviet-West German hair dye brand, Kolor, is popular.


Soviet women also seem to be recognizing that even the best quality makeup and trendiest fashions won’t do a thing for them if they don’t shape up, literally.

While young Soviets for the most part seem slim--no doubt thanks to a fitness test given yearly in schools--diet and tradition combine to ruin many middle-age figures. Dr. Vasily Vorobyev, author of the best-selling Soviet diet book “Good Health,” estimates that as many as half of Soviets are overweight.

Last year, the Moscow Weight Loss Clinic--the first of four such centers in the Soviet Union--treated 5,000 obese patients with a regimen of strict diet and exercise. Almost as soon as it opened, it had a waiting list of 35,000.

The problem is too much fat and carbohydrates in the form of bread, potatoes and sour cream and not enough fruit and vegetables. Soviet newspapers increasingly are printing articles exhorting citizens to take better care of themselves. Soviet television has two daily aerobic shows, running shoes are widely available, and Soviet women appear to have started calorie counting.

First Pizza

Natasha Vasilieva, a 32-year-old, full-figured engineer, exemplified this when she daintily tasted her first slice of American pizza during the Moscow summit and a frown fell over her face. “Do you eat it every day in your country?” she asked an American friend. “Isn’t it very fattening?”

It’s not that Soviet women don’t value looking good. It’s just that things like eyeliner and blush used to be considered bourgeois and even decadent.


This month, for instance, the first Miss Moscow beauty contest will be held thanks to the sponsorship of the Young Communist League, also known as the Komsomol. The finalists, who include a Moscow State University law student and a cyberneticist, will be judged on their beauty, their walk and their posture. And there are plans for a Miss U.S.S.R. Pageant.

After all, it was Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who has remained in favor with Soviet authorities over the years, who once said, “Beauty will save the world.”